Category Archives: Tools of the Trade

Chainmail, Not Just for Medieval Times Anymore

I cook almost exclusively in cast iron anymore. It is indestructible, fairly non-stick and oven friendly. Every once in a while I get a mess on my hands that is not a pleasure to clean. Baked on meat, cheeses, and other assorted products, even on a well seasoned pan can require a fair amount of elbow grease to get clean, and I won’t use any soap on my cast, even though some people think its OK to do so.

chainmailLast Christmas I received a chainmail for cleaning cast iron pans. The premise is the abrasiveness of the chainmail will scour almost anything off the pan. It is one thing that I can’t imagine not having in my kitchen tool chest anymore. Yesterday I made garlicky collard greens with baked eggs for breakfast. When breakfast was done, I had a pan that had baked on eggs, garlic and leeks on it. A little bit of work with the chainmail and it was clean and ready to go in no time. Judge for yourself:

dirty cast iron clean cast iron

Yesterday’s breakfast was a fairly easy mess. I’ve used it for cleaning baked on sugar glazes, meats and more. If you cook with cast iron, pick one of these up. They can be found from around $10 to $20 and are worth every last penny.

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Grinding my Gears

When I look at all of the tools I’ve acquired for the kitchen over the years, the one that is probably the most indispensable is my grinder. I can cook jerky several different ways, I can slice meat with a knife or a slicer, I can find ways to mix a recipe with a blender, mixer, hand held tools. There is only one way to grind meat.

Growing up we raised beef and pigs and hunted and fished. In all of those years we never took our animals to a “butcher” to process them. We did all of the butchering ourselves. Sure we may have had help a time or two, but one the best skills my father has passed on to me is the ability to process an animal on my own. I’ve actually only done one or two on my own over the years, but I’ve had a hand in countless others. It gives me a connection to my food, especially when I can say I shot it, I cut it up, I wrapped it, cooked it and plated it for you. I am the chain of custody of that hamburger.

When you process an animal it isn’t all steaks and chops. There is a huge amount of material that needs to become ground meat. I remember doing the grinding on an old Oster mixer at my parents house before we upgraded to a commerical grade grinder. When I moved out on my own, my first grinder was a Kitchen Aid attachment, which is great for two or three pounds at a time, but when you are running 10 pounds of pork and venison through it for sausage and you are impatient, tit doesn’t take long to strip the gears.

gander mountain 5hp grinderMy mother in law purchased my first stand alone grinder and that was fantastic. It lasted several years until again I stripped out the plastic parts and was left with more frustration than meatloaf. A few years ago for Christmas, I received my current grinder, a 5 HP model from Gander Mountain. It has stainless steel parts, sharp knives and moves at a speed that keeps my attention span happy. I pull it out three or four times a year to make venison sausage, to freshly grind venison or beef or to mix together a variety of meats for a meatloaf.

I totally recommend going out and purchasing your own grinder. It will elevate your game in the kitchen, helping to make everything from burgers to dogs, brats to smoked sausage. Some people prefer a hand model, but I can’t beat this electric version for versatility and speed.

My Favorite Things: The Dehydrator

Over the years, my wife, mother and mother in law have done a fabulous job of listening to what I need to raise my game in the meat processing department. I’ve received cast iron pans, a grinder, the jerky gun, and more from them for Christmas .  One of the best Christmas gifts came in the form of my dehydrator several years ago.

Open Country DehydratorFar and away, the most dehydrated item over the years has been venison jerky. I would use dehydrator four to five times a year to make a batch of jerky. Now that I have the smoker I can imagine I will be using it a little less for jerky, but there have been pounds upon pounds of ground and whole meat venison dried on its racks.

I have used it to dry herbs and to dry hot peppers for my own crushed red pepper. This summer I hope to use it to make my own energy snacks for trips to the mountains. It is one of the most versatile items in the entire kitchen.

The model I’m used to using is the Open Country. I have eight trays for it, but have found it to be most effective with four when drying venison. If you are a hunter, fisherman or spend a lot of time hiking your dehydrator becomes one of your favorite kitchen tools.

The Jerky Gun, My Must Have Tool

Who doesn’t like jerky? I’m a huge fan, and have been making my own for probably about 10 years now. The process changed however when I received the awesome Jerky Gun from Cabela’s for Christmas about 5 years ago.

I had used other jerky guns, but they were plastic and had tendency for the gears to strip out when I was trying to push too much venison through the tube. The important parts of this gun are all metal and it has made well over 500 pounds of jerky in its lifetime with no signs of wear and tear on it.

It is the perfect jerky gun on the market and a must have if you are interested in making your own dried meat snacks at home.

My New Favorite Jerky Seasoning

Having lived in upstate New York where locally grown food, wine, beer and other products are abundant, there has been a bit of an adjustment moving to Southeastern Wyoming. SE Wyoming is good for a lot of things, but growing local food is not one of those. Travel 30 minutes south towards Fort Collins, and the farm stands reappear, but head to the Cheyenne Farmer’s Market, or try to grow your own garden and you realize how harsh this climate can be on food.

I’ve always believed that the cuisine of Cheyenne is meat. It can be beef, bison, elk, moose or venison, but a nice medium rare steak should be the official dinner of Laramie County. Meat does grow well in Wyoming and hunting and fishing is an integral part of the lives of the majority of people who live here, including myself. Finding ways to utilize the entire harvest is important and a Wyoming product that I have used for years for that purpose is Hi Mountain Seasonings. I can be creative in the kitchen with any number of recipes, but when it comes to jerky seasonings, why recreate the wheel? The variety of seasonings offered, the consistency of flavors and the fantastic final product make using Hi Mountain a no brainer.

This past weekend for my #SundaySmokeDay I decided to smoke a batch of venison jerky. The last batch of snack sticks were gone in two weeks, and I had a new seasoning I wanted to try out, Hi Mountain’s Hunter’s Blend. It is a special combination of seasonings that feature garlic, pepper, a hint of hickory and finishing with some heat. I smoked it with hickory smoke and it came out with the flavor of a good beef stick. Even more important, Lorrell loves it too. Sometimes my propensity for heat does not create dried game snacks we both can enjoy. This has just the right amount of pepper and heat to keep me happy without sending her running for a tall glass of milk to put out the fire on her taste buds.

Having tried a number of the seasonings, I must say that the Hunter’s Blend is my new go-to favorite and will be the base seasoning from now on.